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I’m a skeptic, you’re a denier

Posted by softestpawn on December 21, 2008

The mechanisms of debate overcome the subject at times, offering a whole new rabbit hole to disappear down. So when you’re discussing the pros and cons of hedge funds in modern global commerce, and your ‘opposition’* quotes an expert, you can accuse him of ‘arguing from authority’. This handily undermines his reputation as he must only be quoting an authority because he has no expertise of his own. And so you can continue on that vein rather than consider the words the ‘expert’ used.

Similarly, if anyone is not convinced by your belief – of evolution, creationism, man-made global warming, natural climate change, aromatherapy, capitalism, communism, jainism, USA-sponsored terrorism, Luxembourg-sponsored terrorism – you can call them a ‘denier’, which is a shortcut way of saying that you have lots of evidence and they’re ignoring it. This handily bypasses actually presenting any evidence or the reasoning that goes with it.

These distractions from reason – both in presenting and arguing – is all part of the rich tapestry of the general playground that is t’interweb. There’s more at Dr T’s Five As of Empty Arguments, and the perhaps too comprehensive set at Don Lindsay’s.

The next step is not to just accuse your opponent* of using one of these at some point, but to accuse anyone on the opposing side* to generally use many of these most of the time. So there’s the denialistators who lump together anyone who won’t conform to nicely simplified views, or Martin Robbin’s article on extreme skepticism, or mine on Evidence-Free Evangelising.

The problem with that kind of aggregation is that those involved invariably step afoul of their own rules. So here’s a guide to help you correctly label the behaviour of you and your stupid opponents*:

1. It’s rarely possible to provide solid evidence or proof for most modern subjects because of their breadth and complexity. But you’ll find when they can’t provide any decent proof for their crazy ideas, they’ll try and wriggle out of it with some meaningless excuses about there never being solid proof.

2. When you list a set of reasons, they divert the argument by concentrating on tiny aspects as if they were important. They, however, produce reams of meaningless irrelevent twaddle extrapolated from some tiny detail that you have to ferret out to show why they’re wrong.

3. If these idiots can’t produce any peer reviewed evidence for each of their claims, how can they expect to be taken seriously? It’s not as if they’re talking about obvious facts, like yours.

4. You raise important controversial subjects that are interesting to debate. They troll.

5. They cherry pick. You provide examples.

6. You provide expert and experienced knowledge. They argue from authority.

7. They keep moving the goal posts. You simply demand sufficient evidence for the whole chain of reasoning.

8. You are a rational scientist, presenting a controversial but well supported argument. They are crackpot crusadors.

9. You are checking the supporting evidence. They are hiding their ignorant refusal to believe by ‘just asking questions’.

10. They are rightly scorned. You are unfairly persecuted.

11. You are a skeptic on this issue and they are blind evangelists. But when you rationally present an important issue with its roots in solid data, they just deny it all.

12. You have widespread consensus support; they are one of the fooled masses.

13. They are ‘manufacturing uncertainty’ where there isn’t really any. You are showing great gaping holes in their arguments.

14. You are blunt. They are rude.

15. You continue to raise arguments that they fail to rebut. They just keep re-animating “Zombie Arguments” that have been killed.

16. Occasionally you might get something wrong, but there are plenty of other facts that back up your position. Their rubbish opinions are baseless, as typified by that obvious fault you’ve just pointed out.

* Because in any debate you must have opponents and supporters and some people win and some people lose. We won’t have any of your free discussions and partial consensus around here thank you very much.


2 Responses to “I’m a skeptic, you’re a denier”

  1. The real skill, however, comes in learning how to tell the difference between option a) and option b) within each of your pairs of labels. You seem to imply here that it’s not possible, and that each option within the pair is interchangeable depending on which side of the argument you’re on. I don’t think this is the case. Most of the time, the more appropriate label hinges on the strength of the evidence someone provides – not necessarily how strongly the evidence supports your point, but often on how reliable that evidence is to begin with.

    • Well… deliberately in many (most?) pairs there might be no objective difference.

      I agree that sometimes people might be clearly one or the other, but ‘it seems to me’ that these contrasting terms are far more frequently applied to the same activity depending on point of view, and so used to imply the strength of the case in your favour.

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